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Fighting Poverty Together : The War on Poverty and the Fault Lines of Participatory Democracy


Fighting Poverty Together : The War on Poverty and the Fault Lines of Participatory Democracy explores strategies of urban governance in the era spanning the War on Poverty and New Federalism in the 1960s and 1970s. In this period, federal and municipal officials seized on "citizen participation" and the inclusion of aggrieved racialized minority communities as a critical strategy of governance manage conflict and mollify oppositional political formations emergent in urban centers across the nation. Using celebratory language of "self-help" and building on individual and communities' "capacities and competencies," these strategies sought to manage growing crisis in the cities, by producing the boundaries of normative participatory citizenship, absorbing those willing and able to work cooperatively within the bounds of the state, and marginalizing those political formations deemed too radical for productive participation in government programs. Participation was a critical governmental apparatus for transforming racialized minority poor residents---many of whom were engaged in alternative imaginings of community, politics, and power---into productive citizens who participated in mainstream political institutions. But the institutional knowledge formations about poverty, race, and the city were never totalizing. Indeed, the War on Poverty and the inclusionary rhetoric of the era is, at its core, a story about the collision between opposing views about the proper role of government, the meaning and limits of democracy, racial and economic justice, and community power. It is also about the clash of competing trajectories of knowledge formation. On one side, War on Poverty officials came to "know" urban space and racialized minority communities through an assemblage of social scientific research and bureaucratic, observational reports on city life. Yet this institutional knowledge, which was the basis for War on Poverty planning and governance, was blind to the local expertise of individual neighborhoods and communities borne out the quotidian, lived experiences of residents. Throughout this study, I explore the contests over this clashing set of ideas and discursive formations between the state and urban residents and communities in New York, Oakland, and Seattle. I argue that through their challenges to War on Poverty governance, residents and activists imagined alternative visions of community and political power that were anti-racist, multiracial, and anti-imperialist. In doing so, they rejected state knowledge and its processes of racial formation

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